By Marta Ruiz del Árbol
The start of the twentieth century ushered in an unprecedented cultural renaissance in the Russian Empire. Artistic life became filled with programmatic exhibitions and impassioned manifestos combining the influence of foreign avant-garde trends with genuine features of Russian culture.
This exceptional occurrence differed from the other art movements that emerged around the time in Europe in one aspect: the participation of women in the so-called Russian avant-garde. Not only were a very large number involved, but they played an extremely active and significant role.
Goncharova, Exter, Delaunay, Popova, Rozanova, Udaltsova and Stepanova were raised and trained in a regime that clung to the values of the pre-industrial era. They nevertheless became pioneers in creating, disseminating and defending the new artistic languages that both fascinated and scandalised Russian (and European) turn-of-the-century society.
Young, intelligent, free and rebellious, they did not form a group, though many of them knew and influenced each other. Their names are associated with the successive movements of the last years of tsarism in Russia (Neo-Primitivism, Cubo-Futurism, Rayonism and Suprematism) and their careers were already established by the time of the successful October Revolution in 1917. With their drive and determination, they not only succeeded in becoming part of the avant-garde on a fully equal footing but in many ways led it, marking an important milestone in art history.